Jeweler Danielle Hughes isn’t content with just designing pieces—she loves the feeling of creating something herself.
A native of Asheville, NC, Hughes was one of the first students to graduate from SCAD’s jewelry program. She switched majors several times before falling in love with the art of creating jewelry and the feeling of holding a torch.
Now, Hughes is a member at Kobo and a favorite jewelry artist in town. We spoke with her last week.
1: How did you come to Savannah?
I came to SCAD right after I graduated high school in Asheville, in 1990. I was a photo major, and then a fashion major, and then a fibers major. I kind of just jumped around because I wanted to do everything. There wasn’t a metals and jewelry major at that time, just a couple of very intro classes I’d taken. You had to bring your own torch to class.
I ended up taking a year off of SCAD just to get my head straight and work. I moved back to North Carolina and then came back immediately. I was a much better student after that year.
I was still a photo major at that time, because that’s where most of my credits were, but then I found myself really not liking those classes at all and procrastinating doing my work for them. I really wanted to be in a metals class. I was like, “What am I doing?” I loved having a torch in my hand.
2: What did you not like about photography?
I don’t know if I could pinpoint one thing. I did like being in the darkroom, but it was just not appealing to me anymore. I’d done it in high school. Maybe I just got used to having my own thing, and it was weird to me to share? Everything felt very intimidating with the photography lab and everything. At that time, everybody was kind of, “No, me.” Then I got to the jewelry [department] and I felt like everything was very sharing at that time.
I was actually in the first graduating class in the metals department. I want to say there were like 8 of us. We’d all come from different majors since it was new, so there was not a ton of jewelry being made. I was doing a lot of eyewear; my friend was doing headpieces. All kinds of really wacky things, super fun art projects.
It’s a totally different program now because the jewelry world has changed so much. I don’t know most of what’s going on, what they’re teaching now. I don’t know the CAD stuff and 3D printing. I feel like I have more old-school ways of doing everything, which is fine with me. Every now and then I’m like, “Maybe I should take a class in CAD,” just be caught up. I really enjoy making things by hand, I like having a torch in my hand, I like knowing that I made it. I don’t want to just be a jewelry designer; I like being a maker.
3: What other things do you like making?
I keep thinking about eyewear again because I think I’d like to do that. Some of that I wouldn’t mind being necessarily just the designer, being able to sell some designs. Also, lighting things, which I haven’t done in a long time. I’ve made some sconces for the wall, and I keep thinking about that.
When you’re doing the same thing and click on something that’s appealing to people and is selling, it’s great. But now I feel a little bit in a rut. I’ve had some new jewelry, I’m still doing the things I’ve been doing for a while and had some changes within some of my newer jewelry lines, but I keep looking back at what I was doing 20 years ago. I think it’s just kind of calling to me again.
4: What’s your process like?
I used to sketch forever. As a student I would spend insane amounts of time drawing things and then getting super mathematical about everything. Math equations and measuring everything to the hundredth of a millimeter. My friends were already almost finished with stuff and were like, “What are you doing?”
I think I have a tendency to get too hung up trying to figure it out before I actually do it, so sometimes I have to make myself just do it. It’ll happen. It comes once you start doing it. I’m much better at it now. I had times where I literally forced myself, I spent maybe three weeks only doing things I had no idea what I was doing and planning zero, and just doing it as it came. I didn’t stay with that, but it definitely pushed me to work a little differently and taught me some things.
Now, it depends on what I’m doing. I’ll still sketch a lot. Most commissions I’ll do a little more sketching, especially if it’s for an engagement ring or a wedding band.
5: What inspires you?
I don’t want to follow the trends so much. I like that even when I change and have new designs, people wearing it will tell me later that somebody walking down the street will know that it’s my jewelry.
I end up finding inspirations for jewelry in hood ornaments; I love vintage cars. I have tattoos on my arm of hood ornaments. I love the 20s through the 50s, the metalwork on buildings, the Chrysler building, deco architecture. I end up looking at architecture. My dad is an architect, and he was always pointing out details. I started looking at cars, too. Everything metal I end up looking at, but I generally don’t look at jewelry for inspiration. Not that other jewelers aren’t inspiring, but I don’t generally seek it out if I’m trying to get inspired for something. I’ll end up looking at the deco time period or midcentury, things that had a strong sense of the line and structure.
It’s a lot of balance, I guess, between the way you make things. Trying to balance and find things you can sell, but not selling out to those ideas too much.
I think that’s part of my thing of not really wanting to look at other people’s jewelry. Even if it’s not a conscious thing, I’m scared that it’s going to be like, “Oh, I saw that, and even though I’m not thinking of it, I’m trying to recreate that.” What if it’s in my head and I forgot about it and that’s where I’m drawing from? No, I’d rather pull from things that are totally different.